Day 4: I4k Magic

Today’s ride was dedicated to the family that we collected a portrait from earlier this week in Albany. Charlotte, the mother, and Raymond her son sat down and spoke with us at the YMCA. Only last month their father, Roland, who had two children died from colon cancer suddenly. He unknowingly had stage four cancer and within days of finding out, he passed away. Somehow this family gathered extraordinary strength to discuss their experience with us for our project.

In our training and meetings leading up to this trip during the school year many riders who had participated in this trip in previous years talked about the “magic” of I4K. I was initially skeptical of how great this experience would be because when breaking it down: it involves many hours of arduous physical activity, infrequent opportunities for showering, laundry and wifi, early mornings, sharing small spaces (and sometimes one bathroom)with a large group of people, having near constant hunger, and learning to get along with 27 unique people. Sizing up this experience in this way might make it seem like some sort of military training.  However I have already began to fall in love with spending the summer and this way and I am so grateful that I decided to participate in this organization.

When I look at my team members I am so proud of the progress that they have made. At the beginning of the year we all started out with varying base levels of fitness.  However each day I am amazed at how my teammates push themselves and each other to achieve impressive physical feats (so far, an average of 70 miles a day with lots of uphill climbing).  And while one may think that this type of challenge each day would bring out the nasty competitive side of each person, thus far I have only witnessed collaboration and encouragement. It makes me so happy to see how well these people have been able to create a warm and open group dynamic in such a short amount of time.

Thanks you for being such a great squad 2017 team. I can’t wait to reach San Francisco with you all.




Day 3: Team Member Tuesday

Quick notes about the ride today: although there was a lot of uphill climbing, being able to speed down a hill at 30mph +, along with the gorgeous rural hilly scenery and rolling through cute towns made it all worth it.  Upstate New York does not get enough credit. Little Falls, NY, where we are spending the night tonight, is a quaint town with wooden olden style large houses surrounded by large hills.

This morning we dedicated the ride to a teacher at Neeca’s high school.

“Alexa was a beautiful English teacher and water polo coach at Elk Grove High School. She was very much a hippie.  Even though I didn’t have her as a teacher she was always smiling.  Although I knew that she had beat cancer previously I thought that she was done. She was so tough. In April of last year she passed away. During the memorial service at the school I started crying when I heard her husband speak, and I’m not a crier.”

Today is the first segment of Team member Tuesday. Each week a rider will be interviewed in this feature series.

Rider: Neeca

Year in school: Rising sophomore

Favorite things about Illini 4000 thus far: Bonding with the team and all the inside jokes

Least favorite thing about Illini 4000 thus far: HILLS

One thing that surprised you about this trip: All this year leading up to the trip we heard about how we could only bring a small backpack and that we wouldn’t shower everyday, but I thought they were exaggerating.  They weren’t. Lights out at 10 and having only a short time to get ready in the morning these past days have shown me how slow I move in everyday life.

Do you think after this trip you will love or hate biking? Probably love it…in Illinois

After this summer you will have biked across the continental US, what is another thing you hope to accomplish? I want to run a half marathon in the spring of 2018

What are you looking forward to the most? Going to everyone’s weddings on the team.

Favorite CLIF flavor? Blueberry crisp

PBJ or spaghetti with lentils? PBJ

Sink laundry or all natural? Sink laundry for sure

Slow and steady or FAUC (fast as you can)? Slow and steady

Summarize I4k in one word: dirty

Don’t forget! You can still donate to our cause! Our goal is $150,000!

Don’t forget to stretch,


Day 2: The Real World, Illini 4000

Each day the team dedicates the ride to someone affected by cancer. Today we rode for Mason’s grandfather. He lost his battle to cancer in 2011.

From the first day of starting school to the first day of starting a new job, we all know that the first day doesn’t really count. Today, day two, I actually felt like what a real day as an I4k rider is actually like. We got up at 5:45 we rode some miles, had a few PBJ sandwiches, and arrived at the stayover. Okay… maybe we did get lucky today because the place we were spending the night at greeted us with a homemade banner crafted by some cute kiddos, had a multi course meal waiting for us when we pulled up, allowed us access to their sauna and hot tub, and had what we riders like to call the jackpot (showers and wifi).

I’m not sure if there is something in the water in this little town, but every person that I met was overwhelmingly kind. Our hosts made sure we had everything we needed and went above and beyond turning a YMCA hockey rink into a pseudo youth hostel.  Some of the team had to take care of a few bike repairs and the shop we went to gave us complimentary parts, helped us with repairs on a multitude of bikes, and even stayed open well after their hours to ensure that we would be safe on our ride. Word of advice: if you ever find yourself in Delmar New York hit up Savile Road bike shop, they really know their (cycling) stuff.

Hearing of all the evils of the world in recent months, moments and people like this really give me hope.

Today felt like the first real day because a shower brought me more joy than it ever has and eating pineapple from a communal bowl with bare hands didn’t phase anyone at the table.

Although we were not blessed with the idyllic weather of yesterday, today we were blessed with the kindness of strangers.  I am so happy I decided to do this ride.



(Maggie Benson NOT Mackenzie Bach)


Day 1: Ups and Downs

Quote of the day: “51 Kickapoos?  I wasn’t even counting but I bet Josh was just Joshing” – Neeca

Firstly, huge shout out to Bipin and his family for graciously hosting our team the past 2 days, we are very grateful for your hospitality.

I would compare the first day of Illini 4000 like so; have you come home one night feeling really optimistic, and then accidentally walked face first into a screen door (and maybe ripped the door off the hinges)? If so, then you would h understand how I4k day 1 felt today.

Although the team suffered few losses today, the metaphorical screen door was not enough to bring down team morale. The route from Central Park to Beacon, located in upstate New York, consisted of scenic views of the New York City skyline, the Hudson Bay and River, Victorian style homes nestled along the water in small towns, and Bear Mountain.  It baffled me that this type of rustic beauty was located only 30 miles away from the biggest city in the country.

Even though 63 miles is considered a shorter route for the team, we climbed more than 3,600 feet of elevation and descended 3,500 feet in total.  Broken down this entailed many climbs and many downhill speed rushes. Because the team was not used to this type of speed burst, there was a downhill collision, a flat tube and a busted tire, and some heat induced nausea.

Overall, if every day of this ride has the weather, views, and feeling of fellowship amongst members, like today then I would consider this summer one of the best of my life.

Lesson of the day: exercise caution on downhill rolls.



Big appetites in the Big Apple

The team’s first full day in the Big Apple entailed meet and greets, subway rides, and FOOD. To start the day we headed from our stayover in Brooklyn to Manhattan to meet with the folks at Daymon Runyon, a cancer research group. Damon Runyon is unique because they target researchers in the early stages of their careers where it is usually hard to get funding from other sources. We learned that they award funds to around 10% of their applicants, similar to the acceptance rates of Ivy League universities.

From browsing their newsletter I learned that Illini 4000 was a donor in the range of $50,000 to $100,000 in the previous year. Our research fellow gave us an overview of the work that he does, describing what it is like to be on the chemical side of cancer research.

From there, some of the team ventured through the lower East side doing a ‘food tour’ (think doughnuts, pickles, and sesame pancake sandwiches) with an I4k alum while the rest of the team explored Wall St and met up with friends.

Later in the day came our brush with fame when we were invited to a fundraising dinner for mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, attended by members of the Muslim community. Our meeting with him was organized through the host of our stayover, who happened to be childhood friends with de Blasio. To my surprise Bill was an extremely tall (6’5”), down to Earth, and funny guy. After giving him our elevator spheel he seemed very impressed, and wished us luck on the ride.

We arrived back to Brooklyn and were offered even more food from our gracious hosts, which consisted of traditional Indian samosas. After our snack the team assumed the normal routine of the ride which consisted of pumping bike tires, getting bike apparel ready, and setting up sleeping bags to prepare for a 5:45 AM wake up call and a 63 mile day.

Stay tuned


Today’s the day

The day the team has been waiting for all year has finally come! For me, today will be spent packing and gathering any last minute items, taking a ‘before picture’ to compare to the end of the trip, and saying goodbye to my family. Later tonight the team will depart from Union Station in downtown Chicago and begin our journey to NYC. Myself along with a few others will be driving the van (who has yet to be officially named) to Brooklyn where we will be staying at the relative of the original founder of Illini 4000’s house. The rest of the team will be taking the Amtrak to NYC and packing their bikes into boxes that will fit on the train.
Earlier this week it was revealed that we will be meeting the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. After years of the team reaching out to him, this year he finally agreed. I don’t know about the rest of the team but the closest I’ve come to meeting someone famous was seeing wax figures in Las Vegas so I’m hoping I can play it cool when meeting Bill.
We will start the first day of biking this Sunday in hilly New York state. During our training we would ride to Kickapoo state park about 30 miles away from Champaign to practice hills. At the park there is a “wall” (which in reality is a very small climb compared to what we will be facing). The team has been informed that day one of biking will entail 55 Kickapoo hills. Pray for us folks.
Over and out.